Conakry – Amnesty International urged Guinea on Tuesday to reject a proposed law it said could criminalise political dissent as the government was accused of “alarming” attempts to curb press freedom.
The London-based rights group welcomed a public order bill passed by lawmakers on Tuesday outlawing the use of force by police during political protests except as a last resort.
But it warned in a statement that the law –- still to be approved by President Alpha Conde — contains loopholes that could result in an erosion of the right to peaceful assembly.
“New legislation to ensure force is only ever used as a measure of last resort, and under strict conditions, is welcome but needs to be strengthened and enforced if Guinea’s history of violence is not to repeat itself in the coming elections,” said Amnesty’s Francois Patuel.
Amnesty said the law would not allow for spontaneous assemblies, while security forces would retain powers to disperse groups of peaceful protestors if one among them was believed to be carrying a weapon.
Amnesty says at least 357 people have died and thousands have been wounded during demonstrations over the last decade.
“Guinea’s authorities should be doing everything possible to facilitate peaceful protest, both to respect freedom of assembly and to ensure stability and safety ahead of key elections,” the group said.
The bill was passed in the absence of the opposition, which is boycotting parliament in a dispute over the timing of forthcoming elections.
Opposition leaders are demanding local polls ahead of the presidential vote due in October, but have accused Conde of refusing because he wants to keep his cronies in local government to help him rig the national election.
The president denies the claims, arguing that local officials will not be involved in the presidential polls.
The dispute sparked weeks of clashes between anti-government activists and security forces that left several people dead and dozens wounded in April and May.
Amnesty also criticised a separate bill allowing five-year jail terms for people convicted of publishing “false news” about the president, describing the measure as a “wholly unjustified restriction of freedom of expression that could be used to criminalise dissent”.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced another attempt to “muzzle the media” on Monday after Guinea’s High Authority for Communications announced it was banning newspaper editorials and other opinion pieces during the presidential election campaign.
The restriction was overturned after an outcry in the media, but RSF said the government was continuing to “restrict freedom of information to an alarming extent”.